Ann Budge: SPFL reconstruction options this week

Hearts owner and taskforce ironing out deails

Ann Budge

With two possible options for league reconstruction expected to be tabled for the consideration of member clubs this week, one of those heading up the taskforce believes it is vital to come to a conclusion soon.

Well aware of the growing tedium and frustration of many as rows about how best to conclude the season, possible reconstruction and festering fall-outs over the way the SPFL have handled the unprecedented issues thrown up by the coronavirus crisis, Ann Budge says options for rejigging the league set-up will be presented to clubs this week.

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The Hearts supremo, who is seeking change as a way to negate relegation for the likes of Stranraer and Partick Thistle, and in due course, her own club, who have all been denied the chance to save themselves due to the premature calling of the league campaigns.

But the working group will have to come up with a plan that sways the votes of 11 top-flight teams and 75 per cent of clubs in the lower divisions.

Details have not been released but it is understood that both options include a 14-team top tier and would prevent the need for relegation throughout the leagues, with either two leagues of 14 beneath them or three divisions of ten, with the Highland League and Lowland League champions being promoted via the pyramid system to make up the numbers.

“We have done a bit of analysis on the stuff that was given to us last week and we have fed that back. We now hope that we will be presenting options.

“There are two that seemed to be the preferred options but there are elements that we need to flesh out.”

The fear of some is that by adding to the number of member clubs, finances would be diluted.

“We have had a discussion on the pros and cons of them both and we now need to get on to talking about the issues that would follow on from them,” admitted Budge, who believes the obstacles can be cleared. “The thing we haven’t yet approached, quite deliberately, is people’s concerns about distribution of finances. I don’t think that needs to be a concern and that there are ways of addressing that.

“But that is where we have to get to in the next week or so, presenting options and outlining what each one would mean for clubs and then we can take it from there. But, I am aware that that is the elephant in the room.”

While self-interest will always play a part in decision making, Budge insists that the severity of the situation and unprecedented problems posed by the coronavirus shutdown mean that people also need to survey the bigger picture if clubs are to survive and the game continue as a competitive and viable product in Scotland.

“I think that is very important. We have to look at it carefully. We have to find the best way of doing things.

“I think a lot of people are now saying the same thing and it is absolutely true. The things we are talking about today, we have been talking about for weeks, in some cases even longer!

“I think it was Michael Stewart I heard on the radio saying that he was fed up talking about it and I felt like phoning in and saying ‘that makes two of us!’ So, yes, while it is important we deal with these issues, I think there is an appetite to see matters resolved as soon as possible, and then to see a pulling together and a few decisions made. I think we actually all have to look at how we protect each other, how do we protect our supporters and, going forward, how we address the issue of social distancing and our older fans, including myself! I might not be allowed to go back to the games straight away either.

“There are some really serious challenges ahead and some serious considerations. For example, the discussions that are going on, about games being played behind closed doors and players going back to training, well, before that happens we really, really have to understand the extent of the difficulties involved in that. I know it almost sounds easy but there is a lot of detail that still needs to be worked out. So, we need to resolve these other issues, finally then put them behind us, and start working together and focusing on how we move forward.”